Christine Chambers is Development Officer (Discovery and Learning), with Ulster Wildlife (UW), and is operationally responsible for the Natural World Challenge (NWC) within UW.
UW believes that people have lost the connection with our life support system which is the natural environment. By reconnecting with it we start to value it and look after it as well. It also has a positive benefit for us all personally, and it’s this that lies behind our interest in working with Caring Breaks and its clients.
Involvement with the natural environment is very important in helping people maintain good health and well-being. It can also help people come together. It’s like a therapy and helps to reduce stress. And all of these factors are equally important within Caring Breaks.
We know from talking to the clients that there is clear evidence that the NWC project has enabled them to become more engaged with other people and with nature. For example, when we started working with Caring Breaks in 2010, some of the clients were ‘closed’ and really apprehensive about trying new things. But over time, they gained confidence and began to become more involved and willing to try out activities that initially they were not really interested in.
I have done a lot of the programmes with Caring Breaks and just from my own point of view, when you first start you’re just a wee bit hesitant because you are not quite sure where you are going or how deeply you can get involved. As time goes on you get to know what the clients like doing. Our guides are great at coming up with inventive and fun activities to help the clients enjoy the challenges and events of the project and benefit from their time together.
Our staff and guides have good fun with the clients, and over the last five years very good relationships have been developed. Our guides meet the clients regularly - at the allotment for instance, so get to know them as individuals, which is a very special way of working. This is the only UW progamme involving adults with learning disabilities. But we also work with three special schools and what we do there has been influenced by the success of the scheme with Caring Breaks
Within the NWC scheme it has also been important to involve families. The clients love taking home the items they have made – i.e. planters and feeders and posters to put up at home and we know this has encouraged parents to join in and help their sons and daughters pursue their interest in the natural world.